How do you stay focused? It’s a good question and one that’s open to many interpretations, but let’s pretend we mean keeping one’s mind on the task in hand. Namely, writing.
The short, honest answer for many (myself included) is I don’t. OneMonkey will argue that there are times when I may as well be in another universe for all the response he gets to perfectly simple questions, and those are the times I probably am in another universe of my own creation. Those times are not the problem. However, there are times when I’m in the final paragraph of a story, I can practically hear the satisfied sigh of a job well done, and yet…
An hour later I’m still in the final paragraph of the story but I have a tidier desk, I’ve changed the title of a story I finished two weeks ago, and I’ve jotted down 3 new ideas for endings for the story I want to write next. My mind is sliding off the task in hand and falling upon all sorts of other (no doubt laudable) occupations. I want to finish the story, I need to concentrate. What to do?
For me at least, there is no magic bullet. Sometimes I put music on to drown out the rest of the world, and that’s enough. Sometimes if I put music on I end up sitting back and listening to it. Sometimes I’m starting to get hungry so I promise myself a snack when I’ve finished the paragraph. Sometimes I have to give up because then all I can think about is what to spread on my toast.
Coincidentally, after I started writing this (told you I didn’t stay focused) I came across an article on The Guardian Books Blog about staying focused while writing. Specifically, the use of software that starts deleting what you’ve already written if you take too long over typing the next word. I have a feeling that after a few days you’d get into the habit of absent-mindedly tapping a key while you were thinking, then every first draft would have a string of jjjjjjnnnnnn every so often which you’d have to weed out (finding your wordcount was nowhere near as high as you thought). Personally, I’m with dogboytim, one of the commenters, who suggests “a cup of tea and a biscuit and turning the modem off”. There is little in life that can’t be improved with the addition of a cup of tea and a biscuit, so you’ve nothing to lose by this approach, and I for one would be distracted away from the plot less often if the Guardian Books Blog was not so handily in reach. Excuse me while I flick this little switch marked Wireless, and go put the kettle on.